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Inspectors back in as Iran ‘struggles’ to find oil buyer

Iran is “struggling” to find a buyer for its oil output surplus, according to a report, as UN weapons inspectors arrive back in the sanctions-hit country.

The Middle Eastern state’s oil ministry on Sunday announced that it has cut off supplies to UK and French companies, in retaliation for an EU ban last month on Iranian oil imports from 1 July.

"Exporting crude to British and French companies has been stopped ... we will sell our oil to new customers," ministry spokesman Alireza Nikzad said in a statement.

The Financial Times reported on Monday that Tehran is “struggling” to find a new buyer for the estimated 500,000 barrels of oil per day left as surplus from its decision to halt sales to France and the UK.

This is nearly 23% of all Iranian oil exports last year, the newspaper reported.

One unidentified industry source told the newspaper: “Iran is facing severe problems finding a new buyer.” Chinese and Indian refineries are being courted for the surplus.

The counter-ban could result in a kickback for large tanker owners as floating storage off the Iranian coast is one option if the country does not wish to cut back on production.

China weighed in on the argument on Monday with foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei telling reporters China “hopes all sides can get back onto the correct path of dialogue as soon as possible”.

Hong continued: "We have consistently upheld dialogue and negotiation as the way to resolve disputes between countries, and do not approve of exerting pressure or using confrontation to resolve issues.”

Iran’s latest move came as the UN sent its weapons inspectors back into the country to determine if the country’s nuclear programme is for weapons production or peaceful domestic energy use.

Chief inspector Herman Nackaerts told reporters: "Importantly we hope for some concrete results from the trip. The highest priority remains of course the possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear programme, but we want to tackle all outstanding issues.

"This is of course a very complex issue that may take a while. But we hope it can be constructive.”

Iran has been hit in recent months by a swathe of new international sanctions over its perceived nuclear weapons programme. The country’s regime has always maintained that the programme is for civilian use only.